Thorns FC: Spirited Away

Last weekend Thorns FC came back from a mid-second-half concession to beat the visiting Washington Spirit 2-1.

I really wanted that win to whisper secrets about this Thorns team to me.  I really wanted to use it as insight into whether this is the team that stonewalled Carolina or the team that collapsed in Seattle.  I watched the match in Saturday’s heat and again on the screen in the evening dark looking for clues.  Hints.  Suggestions.

And after all that watching and guessing and thinking?

I still have no idea.

For most of matchday I was simmering with impatience.  It seemed to me then that Thorns FC was letting what seemed to me to be a very average Washington squad hang about far too long.  That the home side was risking a random concession, that the Thorns’ tendency to farkle about in front of goal had returned at the worst possible time.

And, sure enough, in the 58th minute the concession came.  For some inexplicable reason nobody in a red shirt bothered to close down Mewis as she took Johnson’s throw-in.

Mallory Pugh – who had been largely kept in check through hard defensive graft – saw that Klingenberg was hypnotized by Mewis’ personal magnificence or wardrobe choices or something and dashed down the east touchline.  Mewis slotted a deft pass into her, and she beat Kling easily to the byline and crossed in to Solaun in the goalmouth.

As the cross came through – and it was a pretty cross – it looked like Kat Reynolds had Solaun well bodied-up.

But somehow she stumbled as she chased Solaun’s initial shot that came off the near post.  Solaun didn’t, and followed the rebound to bundle it into the goal, 0-1 Washington.

Now down a goal and with PTFC seemingly back in their “how does this putting the ball in the goal thing go, again?” funk I was hoping for at best an equalizer.  Instead, Washington proceeded to help Portland get back into the match with defending worthy of a soccer highlight blooper reel:

That’s just ridiculous.  First a Washington defender – Dydasco, I think – heads the ball back across her own goalmouth.  Before Labbe’ can run off her line and kick her dead in the backside for Bad Defending 101 four Spirit defenders manage to not mark any Thorns or get to the ball as it rolls free to an unmarked Allie Long lounging casually at the end of the row.

Simple finish and it’s all square at 1-1.

If I was being honest, and I try to be honest here, that would have been a fair result.  Thorns FC had, up to that point, spent a fair piece of the match not doing anything of particular merit.  The first Portland attack of any value didn’t come until the 25th minute; until that point the match was all Washington.  My seat in 206 must have been sprinkled with Home-R Dust(TM), the Spirit was nothing like “average” in the first half hour and had by far the better of the play for a fair chunk of the match.

The Thorns’ work improved late in the first half and into the second – Sinclair hammered a shot off the crossbar at 51′ – but I can’t say that the red team looked conclusively better than the white team at any particular stretch of the game.

At home.  Against the current holders of the Wooden Spoon.

Even late in the match, this sort of thing was happening:

That’s the goal-scorer, Solaun, on a strong central run with the whole red backline scattering before her like chaff.  Menges is, at least, trying to close her down.  Boureille is about to get burned by Williams, Kling is still in Eastern Daylight Time, and Sonnett…what the hell IS Sonnett doing..?

Not covering Pugh, for one thing.

Solaun gets the ball to Pugh as Sonnett races to try and cover up.  If the pass is a touch firmer, if Pugh’s control is a trifle better it could easily have been 1-2 and the match glimmering.

Instead Pugh beat the ball high and wide, and…

…some nice work from the attackers brought the match home for Portland.

Sinclair started off passing square to Horan with space; Horan’s diagonal pass picked out Sykes running wide right and, as you can see, she crossed in through Dydasco’s legs to find Mallory Weber unmarked.  Weber’s first touch – in fact, her only significant touch of the match – went for the match-winner.

After a complete performance against Carolina this one was…well, good enough…but seemingly just barely good enough.

Periods of good passing, intelligent movement, combination play, and composed defending (25th through the 35th minutes…around the 51st-52nd minutes, and the first four of five minutes after 70′) alternating with torpid attacking and adventurous defending (almost the whole first half-hour and a big chunk of the 70th to the 80th minutes) and the random return of the Horrific Franch Short Clear.

Wins are wins, whether gleeful beatdowns or nailbiting escapes.  And this was a much-needed win heading into the international break weekend.

But if it told me whether this Thorns team is sure to be destined for topgallant-high playoff delight or doomed to keelson-deep bottom-six despair?

I do not know.

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Player comments and PMRs:

Sinclair (+5/-1 : +6/-0 : +11/-1)  Did her usual hard work of assembling and connecting the attack, and did her usual good job at that work.  Great effort could easily have gone in for the equalizer.

Raso (+7/-1 : +6/-1 : +13/-2)  Worth noting that at an hour in Raso’s PMR was +8/-2; came alive in the last half-hour after a decent but unspectacular outing to that point.  Active and great runs, as usual, but also slipping back into her not-shooting ways.

Lussi (76′ – +3/-3 : +1/-0 : +4/-3)  Not a bad outing, but also not as involved as she could and probably should have been.  Given the derpitude of Washington’s backline should really have been more dangerous.

Weber (14′ – +1/-0)  Other than the goal a modest shift.  Hopefully the goal will light a fire under her.

Horan (+9/-3 : +12/-2 : +21/-5)  Woman of the Match; her passing vision was remarkable all match, and did the defending she had to when she had to.  Excellent outing from Lindsey on a day when most of the team was being kind of meh.

Sykes (82′ – +6/-5 : +4/-0 : +10/-5)  Tireless along the right flank, great crossing and some critical defensive work.  Sykes is proving to be a great value this season, and the question of “who sits when the bedpatients return” is becoming more difficult with every match.

Hubly (8′ – +2/-0)  Decent enough work to see out the win.

Long (+4/-1 : +6/-3 : +10/-4)  Finally!  Allie’s first goal in over two months (her last was in the 2-2 Seattle home draw back in early May, in case you had forgotten, too) was long overdue.  Lots of defensive work in the first half opened up into passing in the second as the Thorns had to chase.

Klingenberg (+10/-3 : +6/-8 : +16/-11)  I’m not sure but whether Kling’s tendency to run the touchline tends to tire her out late in matches, but this isn’t the first time I’ve scored her significantly lower in the second half, especially some shockingly poor defending.  Not a bad match taken overall, but was left looking gassed when Thorns FC needed her locking down the left back the most.

Sonnett (+4/-0 : +4/-4 : +8/-4)  Like Kling, slipped notably late, including some equally poor defending when poor defending was not a good idea.  Better overall, but still making some oddly poor decisions.

Menges (+8/-8 : +4/-2 : +12/-10)  Her PMR is deceptive; of her “minuses” almost all are for long forward passes (7 of 10).  I’m not sure why she was hoofing all these long balls but very few of them connected (only 2 of her 12 “pluses” are good long passes).  Played solid defense; close to back to her Great Wall form.

Reynolds (72′ – +4/-2 : +1/-1 : +5/-3)  Good shift; solid defense, and some accurate outlet passes.  Good to see Kat back in form.

Boureille (18′ – +1/-1)  Little impact on the match; no obvious issues but little to do on a flank that saw little activity.

Franch (+2/-0 : +5/-2 : +7/-4)  Not really at fault on the goal.  Several excellent saves, including a point-blank palm away on Mewis’ hip-shot in the 76′.  Two truly awful short clears; one in the 51st minute that luckily bounced off Mewis right back to Franch, but the other, in the 69th minute could have been disastrous had Sonnett not blocked Ship’s point-blank shot.

Distribution:  Franch put a total of 19 clearances into play; 7 goal kicks, 4 punts, 3 free kicks, and 5 clears.  Of these only 6 went to a Portland player.  Twelve went to Washington directly, and one into touch.

Of the 13 clearances lost 3 were directed immediately back at Portland’s goal.  A “dangerous loss” ratio of 15% is not particularly good, largely reflecting the aggressive play of Washington’s midfields and forwards.

Wee heidies:  I continued to record as much as I could see of what the players did with long clearances and high lofted passes in general, and in this case the results showed an interesting trend, at least for Washington.

The two teams handled a total of 46 high balls.  Of these 32 – 70% were either headed directly back up in the air or flicked on.  Of those 32 high balls or flicks 23 resulted in a loss of possession for the team whose player headed the ball first, a 71% loss rate.  The remaining 14 were either played to feet or chested down; of that 2 were lost, so a 14% loss rate for balls played “down”.

Interestingly, in the first half Washington players handled 13 chances.  8 were headed back up (6 were lost, one pinged around randomly, only one was retained) but 5 were headed or chested down or played to feet (1 was lost).  In the second half the Spirit handled 7 chances; all were headed back up or flicked on, with 4 of the 7 retained by Washington.  I’m not sure why the Spirit players changed their methods, and for all I know the small sample size may be heavily influenced by pure randomness.  We’ll see them again here in September, and I’ll surely be watching to see if there’s any sort of trend…

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The Thorns are off this coming weekend and when they return the Euro international players should be back (Dagny, sooner, sadly for Iceland…).  Then we’ll see Houston here and find out whether Thorns FC took SFC Harris’ advice.

8 Comments Thorns FC: Spirited Away

  1. Timber Dave

    Great to see Horan’s steady improvement, particularly in directing the game from midfield. She’s always been a good player, but it feels like she’s much more of a team player now. I wonder how it will all work if/when Heath returns from injury.

    Speaking of which, has anyone heard anything more about her? Last I heard was Parsons’s “hoping she’ll be back for playoffs” comment, which possibly was and possibly wasn’t meant to be taken literally. The longer we go in the summer the more it appears “possibly was”” is correct.

    Reply
    1. John Lawes

      I really wanted Horan to step her game up to the level she showed in Boston, and, after she didn’t had pretty much given up on seeing that happen. But this is the second game in a row that she’s been a level better than she’d been up to this point. I’m hoping that it’s a thing now.

      And I’ve pretty much given over Heath this season. Even if she DOES get fit enough to play in September she’ll be trying to re-integrate into a team that’s been without her for a full season. I’m not sure how well that’ll work. I don’t think that all hope is gone…but it sure looks dim at this point.

      Reply
  2. Stands

    Menges’s long passes remind me of a gridiron quarterback heaving long balls on 4th down that are as likely to be picked off as caught. If it’s intercepted 30 yards down the field, that’s about as good as a punt.

    With opposing teams spending so much more of their possession in our third than we spend in theirs, just getting the ball past the midfield line relieves a little pressure and allows somebody to reset. I don’t know if Parsons is telling her to do this, or if she’s fed up with being told to pass across the goalmouth, doing her own thing, and “punting” to let the midfield clean it up and the backline to have a second or two to reshape.

    Reply
    1. John Lawes

      I think Em was doing what she was told; I think that after the first half hour Parsons decided that the team needed to go more direct. Thing is, it worked, too. But it was also fairly wasteful of possession; a lot of those long passes get picked off, as you note, even with teams that tend to play Route 1 regularly.

      I agree, though, that it’s a fairly “safe” way to lose possession if you have to lose possession.

      Reply
      1. Timber Dave

        I’m pretty sure goalkeepers sometimes do those long kicks despite the high probability of losing possession just because they want a break, even if for only 30 seconds, from the attacking pressure. (John, you were or are a goalkeeper…. Correct?) Of course, sometimes they do it because the other team is playing a high-pressure game, or their midfield isn’t working, and the long kick is a better option.

        Reply
        1. John Lawes

          My coaches always told me “deep and wide” on goal kicks; the idea being that you don’t want to pitch it short and in the center of the park – if you lose it there it comes right back at you. The idea, though, is to count on your wingers or fullbacks to control the ball and push it up the touchlines. The only time you intentionally batter it into Row ZZ is when you ARE under the cosh and just need to clear the backline…

          I’m starting to think that the long goal kicks are done just because “that’s how you do it”. ISTM that a lot of times the results are no better than a wash, and that a team that can play successfully out of the back is likely to have better results going out short to the backline. But…that takes a REALLY well-organized, short-passing-and-moving backline and DMS and, as we saw earlier in the season, if you can’t do that you’re gonna get punished…

    1. John Lawes

      One of my favorites, and aside from the play on the Washington team’s nickname this match made me think of the film because of the way Chihiro (the heroine) has to puzzle out the mysteries of the spirit world and how this match had a similar opaque quality, a puzzling mixture of skillful and clumsy, incisive and inept. I felt like her, trying to figure out what the hell was going on and who to trust, what to believe. Hopefully this coming weekend we’ll see a more definitive Thorns team performance…

      Reply

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